Search ST Engineering

Ensuring Aircraft Part Quality in Aviation MRO

Installing suspected unapproved parts (SUPs) during aircraft maintenance, repair, and overhaul work can lead to improper operation or structural failure. Quality Assurance (QA) specialists and well-managed QA programmes are thus instrumental in ensuring the redelivery of a safe aircraft by eliminating SUPs from the MRO process.

Eugene Tan is the Head of Policy & Accident Prevention at ST Engineering’s Commercial Aerospace, where he has served in aviation QA roles for over 28 years. He shares about his experiences in managing SUPs, as well as his responsibilities and ST Engineering’s commitment in ensuring that procedures for safe operations and airworthy aircraft are adequate and adhered to.

Understanding Suspected Unapproved Parts

In aircraft maintenance, QA specialists and well-managed QA programmes are instrumental in ensuring the redelivery of a safe aircraft. QA is a complex process, requiring a mix of skills and qualities: aircraft maintenance knowledge, technical and troubleshooting skills, basic engineering and even diplomacy for managing customers. Adding to this complexity is the need to watch out for SUPs.

SUPs refer to aircraft parts from dubious origins or unserviceable critical components. They include products, components, materials that may be counterfeits or have exceeded their airworthy lifespan, and serviceability limits. Fitting them onto an aircraft during MRO work could lead to improper operation or structural failure.

Given how SUPs are a threat to safety, reliability and profitability of operators and MROs alike, preventing them from making their way into the inventory or onto the aircraft is a crucial part of a QA specialist’s job. However, it is not as straightforward as ensuring that every part is certified, since documentation for proving airworthiness or authenticity can be forged. SUPs have been passed off as certified parts by suppliers through the use of forged or improper Airworthiness Release Certificates (ARCs).

All Hands on Deck in Combating SUPs

Eugene can recall a few occasions when he encountered SUPs and how they had come to light.

He shared, “Once, the original equipment manufacturer (OEM) modification kits delivered to us experienced high failure rates after being installed on a customer’s aircraft. The OEM had initially suspected that this was due to our poor MRO workmanship. However, after thorough investigation, they discovered that one of their approved vendors had been reselling parts that failed internal quality checks!”

“In another instance, it came to our attention that a certifying staff from another MRO company had forged our company’s component ARCs to recycle their non-airworthy components back to service.” Eugene added that ST Engineering’s strong reputation in the market could be a factor behind others’ attempts to exploit our ARCs, and hence it is essential that we protect our hard-won track record for quality and safety by being alert to such forgeries.

Given how SUPs can slip through even stringent procurement processes, all hands must be on deck to help detect them in every part of the MRO process. If procurement officers are the gatekeepers that help to keep out unapproved parts by selecting reliable suppliers to work with, aircraft technicians are then the frontliners with the knowledge to identify SUPs given their daily exposure to aircraft parts and maintenance work.

“All our technicians are trained to identify SUPs. Every new maintenance personnel who joins us has to undergo QA training, and subsequently regular refresher courses,” Eugene further shared. “It is important that everyone plays an important role in ensuring the integrity of aeronautical products, especially when it comes to determining their quality, eligibility and traceability. Our technicians are trained not only to carry out their maintenance work well; they also know the importance of their role in ensuring proper parts are used, and their impact on the safety of the aircraft.”

Playing Our Part to Keep Aircraft Flying Safe

While the aviation part supply market is highly regulated and controlled, SUPs are a recurring problem as they are significantly cheaper to buy and extremely profitable to sell. With demand for spares outstripping supply post-COVID 19, the pressure to cut corners can motivate others to do the wrong thing.

This is why QA specialists like Eugene are so important. Over his long career with ST Engineering, Eugene conducts in-house airworthiness training sessions to make sure that everyone, himself included, keeps abreast of the latest best practices for QA in the ever-evolving aviation industry, while upholding environmental, health and safety management systems.

While technical knowledge is important, Eugene opines that a safety and quality mindset is just as crucial. As a firm believer of quality over profits, Eugene is proud to be part of an organisation that places safety as the top priority. In his long career with ST Engineering, he has seen how the safety culture starts all the way from the top, so that there can be adequate resources for continuous improvement and aviation safety education, and business decisions that prioritise a robust quality management system are made.

As for his job, Eugene describes QA specialists as playing an outsized (though under-discussed) role in aviation safety. “While QA specialists may not be directly involved in the procurement process or maintenance operations, they are akin to squad leaders who oversee an organisation’s quality management system from A to Z. It is only by working closely as a team, from the management and customers to the technicians and purchasing officers, that everyone can pull together to keep aircraft flying safely.”

Join us in ST Engineering

Be part of a team that prizes innovation and teamwork.

View our job openings and pursue a rewarding career with opportunities across borders.